It used to be that a person who chose politics as a career was looked upon with admiration, with respect for their public service. At the very least, they were given the benefit of the doubt when it came to truth and were generally considered a trust-worthy lot.
Not so anymore.
Now they make a piñata out of you and invite bar patrons to whack your image with sticks. True story. Some bar owner in Red Deer, Alberta (naturally) put up a piñata of Justin Trudeau, and even added the nice touch of putting a rope around his neck. This class act was part of the bar’s Canada Day celebration.
This contempt for politicians appears to be something that is country-wide, though perhaps not so vividly expressed as in Alberta.
The latest public opinion survey from our old buddy Angus Reid finds that nearly two thirds of Canadians (64 per cent) say politicians cannot be trusted. One third of those respondents went further, saying that they believe politicians are primarily motivated by personal gain rather than a genuine desire to serve.
And, perhaps because the next election is a federal one, it is federal politicians who are feeling the stinging contempt most strongly.
Four in ten Canadians feel the quality of federal candidates in their areas have worsened in the last five to 10 years. Only 29 per cent believe that of provincial candidates and 24 per cent of municipal candidates.
And of the group that feel candidates run for office for personal gain, it is those who vote Conservative who feel this most strongly. That’s interesting. Don’t really know what it means, but it’s interesting.
In any event, we, as Canadians, are distrustful of those who seek office. We question their motivation. And that’s pretty even right across the country. Atlantic Canadians mistrust at a rate of 56 per cent, Quebecois at 59 per cent, Ontario at 68 per cent, Alberta at 67 per cent and British Columbia at 63 per cent.
Canadians also believe, by a margin of 67 per cent, that some previous experience in the broader world is important for a candidate. No career politicians need apply in other words. This creates an interesting paradox because we all know the power of incumbency — if you’ve gained office once, it is quite likely you will be re-elected. Once re-elected, you are somewhat of a career politician.
But Canadians expect you to pay your dues before. However given all the flack Justin Trudeau took for being a mere “drama teacher” we may not know what we want.
Sidebar: Drama teacher is always said in quotation marks, and with full scorn, when talking about Trudeau’s pre-PM career.
In any event, the polls say that people don’t like politicians much. And it begs the question, why do people keep going into politics as career?
It doesn’t pay outstandingly well. I mean $167,400 (the average pay for an MP) is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not CEO money.
If you run provincially, as an MLA you will make $111,000.
And if you aim at municipal politics (the most admired according to Angus) well, the smaller the city, the smaller the salary. The Mayor of Vancouver actually makes more than the average MP at $174,258. The Mayor of Toronto comes in at $192,503, which is not chump change.
But the Mayors of Kimberley and Cranbrook make substantially less. Kimberley’s Mayor receives under $30,000.
And for that money, politicians take a lot of flak. A lot of it.
Because they have willingly put themselves in the public arena, they open themselves to criticism and we Canadians cheerfully provide it. And Albertans cheerfully whack at your likeness with a stick.
The pensions are terrific of course. Now you don’t qualify unless you are re-elected at least once, but once you do, retirement is less of a worry. The counter argument to that is that the politician has devoted his or her highest earning years to politics and therefore lost a fair bit as well. Which, if your previous career was law, as it is with many politicians, could be true.
The other thing is, the truly ambitious, the political animals that aspire to cabinet or the PMs office, generally have plenty of coin of their own. You need it to rise through the ranks.
So personal gain? I don’t know if I buy it, although 32 per cent of Canadians do.
At least that’s what Angus Reid says.
But who knows if we can trust him?